Tapestry

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This article is about the textile art. For other uses, see Tapestry (disambiguation).
One of the tapestries in the series The Hunt of the Unicorn: The Unicorn is Found, circa 1495-1505, the Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Tapestry is a form of textile art, traditionally woven on a vertical loom. However, it can also be woven on a floor loom as well. It is composed of two sets of interlaced threads, those running parallel to the length (called the warp) and those parallel to the width (called the weft); the warp threads are set up under tension on a loom, and the weft thread is passed back and forth across part or all of the warps. Tapestry is weft-faced weaving, in which all the warp threads are hidden in the completed work, unlike cloth weaving where both the warp and the weft threads may be visible. In tapestry weaving, weft yarns are typically discontinuous; the artisan interlaces each coloured weft back and forth in its own small pattern area. It is a plain weft-faced weave having weft threads of different colours worked over portions of the warp to form the design.[1][2]

Most weavers use a natural warp thread, such as linen or cotton. The weft threads are usually wool or cotton, but may include silk, gold, silver, or other alternatives.

Etymology[edit]

First attested in English in 1467, the word tapestry derives from Old French tapisserie, from tapisser,[3] meaning "to cover with heavy fabric, to carpet", in turn from tapis, "heavy fabric", via Latin tapes (GEN tapetis),[4] which is the latinisation of the Greek τάπης (tapēs; GEN τάπητος, tapētos), "carpet, rug".[5] The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek 𐀲𐀟𐀊, ta-pe-ja, written in the Linear B syllabary.[6]

Function[edit]

Henry VIII is seated beneath a tapestry cloth of state

The success of decorative tapestry can be partially explained by its portability (Le Corbusier once called tapestries "nomadic murals").[7] Kings and noblemen could roll up and transport tapestries from one residence to another. In churches, they were displayed on special occasions. Tapestries were also draped on the walls of castles for insulation during winter, as well as for decorative display.

In the Middle Ages and renaissance, a rich tapestry panel woven with symbolic emblems, mottoes, or coats of arms called a baldachin, canopy of state or cloth of state was hung behind and over a throne as a symbol of authority.[8] The seat under such a canopy of state would normally be raised on a dais.

The iconography of most Western tapestries goes back to written sources, the Bible and Ovid's Metamorphoses being two popular choices. Apart from the religious and mythological images, hunting scenes are the subject of many tapestries produced for indoor decoration.

Historical development[edit]

Tapestries have been used since at least Hellenistic times. Samples of Greek tapestry have been found preserved in the desert of Tarim Basin dating from the 3rd century BC.

Tapestry reached a new stage in Europe in the early 14th century AD. The first wave of production originated in Germany and Switzerland. Over time, the craft expanded to France and the Netherlands. The basic tools have remained much the same.

A typical loom for hand weaving of smaller tapestries still in use in Scandinavia

.

Detail of Naissance de Marie Aubusson tapestry in the cloister of Church of St. Trophime, Arles

In the 14th and 15th centuries, Arras, France was a thriving textile town. The industry specialised in fine wool tapestries which were sold to decorate palaces and castles all over Europe. Few of these tapestries survived the French Revolution as hundreds were burnt to recover the gold thread that was often woven into them. Arras is still used to refer to a rich tapestry no matter where it was woven. Indeed, as literary scholar Rebecca Olson argues, arras were the most valuable objects in England during the early modern period and inspired writers such as William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser to weave these tapestries into their most important works such as Hamlet and The Faerie Queen. [9]

By the 16th century, Flanders, the towns of Oudenaarde, Brussels, Geraardsbergen and Enghien had become the centres of European tapestry production. In the 17th century, Flemish tapestries were arguably the most important productions, with many specimens of this era still extant, demonstrating the intricate detail of pattern and colour embodied in painterly compositions, often of monumental scale.

The Attainment, one of the Holy Grail tapestries, Morris & Co., 1890s

In the 19th century, William Morris resurrected the art of tapestry-making in the medieval style at Merton Abbey. Morris & Co. made successful series of tapestries for home and ecclesiastical uses, with figures based on cartoons by Edward Burne-Jones.

Kilims and Navajo rugs are also types of tapestry work.

In the mid-twentieth century, new tapestry art forms were developed by children at the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre in Harrania, Egypt, and by modern French artists under Jean Lurçat in Aubusson, France. Traditional tapestries are still made at the factory of Gobelins and a few other old European workshops, which also repair and restore old tapestries. The craft is also currently practiced by hobbyist weavers.

Jacquard tapestries, colour and the human eye[edit]

The term tapestry is also used to describe weft-faced textiles made on Jacquard looms. Before the 1990s tapestry upholstery fabrics and reproductions of the famous tapestries of the Middle Ages had been produced using Jacquard techniques but more recently, artists such as Chuck Close and the workshop Magnolia Editions have adapted the computerised Jacquard process to producing fine art.[10] Typically, tapestries are translated from the original design via a process resembling paint-by-numbers: a cartoon is divided into regions, each of which is assigned a solid colour based on a standard palette. However, in Jacquard weaving, the repeating series of multicoloured warp and weft threads can be used to create colours that are optically blended – i.e., the human eye apprehends the threads’ combination of values as a single colour.[7]

This method can be likened to pointillism, which originated from discoveries made in the tapestry medium. The style’s emergence in the 19th century can be traced to the influence of Michel Eugène Chevreul, a French chemist responsible for developing the colour wheel of primary and intermediary hues. Chevreul worked as the director of the dye works at Les Gobelins tapestry works in Paris, where he noticed that the perceived colour of a particular thread was influenced by its surrounding threads, a phenomenon he called “simultaneous contrast.” Chevreul’s work was a continuation of theories of colour elaborated by Leonardo da Vinci and Goethe; in turn, his work influenced painters including Eugène Delacroix and Georges-Pierre Seurat.[citation needed]

The principles articulated by Chevreul also apply to contemporary television and computer displays, which use tiny dots of red, green and blue (RGB) light to render colour, with each composite being called a pixel.[7]

List of famous tapestries[edit]

Tapestry with monogram "SA" of King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland, Brussels, c. 1555. Part of famous Jagiellonian Tapestries, also known as the Wawel Tapestries or Wawel Arrases.
Tapestry of Christ in Glory, 1962, Coventry Cathedral, 75.5 feet high, designed by Graham Sutherland and woven by Pinton Frères (fr), Felletin, France.

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Mallet, Marla. "Basic Tribal and Village Weaves."
  2. ^ Rivers, Shayne and Nick Umney. Conservation of Furniture. Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003.
  3. ^ Harper, Douglas. "tapestry". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  4. ^ tapes. Charlton T. Lewis. An Elementary Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  5. ^ τάπης. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  6. ^ "The Linear B word ta-pe-ja". Palaeolexicon. Word study tool for ancient Languages. 
  7. ^ a b c Stone, Nick. "Jacquard Weaving and the Magnolia Tapestry Project."
  8. ^ Campbell, Henry VIII and the Art of Majesty, p. 339-341
  9. ^ Olson, Rebecca (2013). Arras Hanging: The Textile That Determined Early Modern Literature and Drama. Newark: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 978-1611494686. 
  10. ^ Sheets, Hilarie M. "Looms with a View." Retrieved 2013-02-13.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]